Tuesday, January 20, 2009
VEGETABLE GROWING IN TROPICAL BELIZE
STATE OF THE ART OF VEGETABLE GROWING IN TROPICAL BELIZE
by Ray Auxillou, Jan. 20, 2009
A recent visit to our BELIZE DEVELOPMENT TRUST ( internet NGO of volunteers ), two very small, simple, hand applied, hydroponic research facility nurseries, located at Hillview Hacienda, home of Falconview Backpackers Adventure Hostel on the slope of Green Parrot Valley on the edge of Santa Elena Town in the Western Cayo District of Belize, enquiries by a fairly new USA immigrant and investor, sent to us for information by Central Farm Government Research Station, who wanted to go into Greenhouse production of vegetables; required me to sum up the state of the art in vegetable growing in tropical Belize, for him and his son.
The last book we printed on the subject, the FOURTH EDITION of the BELIZE VEGETABLE FARMERS BIBLE ), primarily for government employees and the University of Belize Agriculture College Library was a year ago, in January of 2008. We only published 20 copies which cost us $700 bz currency out of pocket each printing edition and sold only two. The rest were donated FREE to government institutions mostly. There has been some progress since then in the last year. In summary, the knowledge of how to grow temperate zone vegetables in the lowland tropical climate of Belize, is thus:
• Winter time vegetables should be planted late September. These vegetables require a temperature differential between the night and day temperatures to suit their biological clocks.
• Summer time vegetables can start to be planted late February, as our summer is two months earlier than that of Northern climates.
• The vegetables with tap roots do better than vegetables with shallow roots.
• Current emphasis is on testing and trying different varieties of seeds. We have done dozens of tomatoes and lettuce types of seeds. The best so far, in Belize conditions are the POLINA tomato and in lettuce the loose leaf variety of TROPICAL EMPEROR for commercial usage. Many seeds have different daylight exposure times than we have in the tropics. We have not yet been able to grow a ball head lettuce in Belize for example.
• Of paramount importance is preparation of SOIL. The soils of Belize are mostly CLAY, SAND, MARL, PEBBLES, etc. The amount of LOAM and HUMUS is minimal. The rule is; that you must change your soil to LOAM. This is done by turning over your CLAY for example and breaking it up into small pieces. Then adding things like; coarse WOOD CHIPS from the planer at sawmills. (Sawdust does not work.) Adding some kind of LIME, in our case, we use GYPSUM available in sacks from over the border, and at Juan Chuck Hardware locally in Western Belize Twin Towns. The best LIME is DOLOMITE LIME in remote Punta Gorda, “Belize Minerals” but they do not sell, or deliver yet to Western Belize agriculture area. There are many chicken growers with big operations at Spanish Lookout. Chicken manure is probably the best addition for fertilizer. Not too much, a tea spoon full, for each plant is plenty. We also add ashes from garbage burning fires for potash. The addition of all sorts of organic leavings, like grass cuttings, etc. are also beneficial to making CLAY into LOAM and you know it is good when the soil is crumbly and has worms in it. Adding CHARCOAL is recommended by Brazilian research, but nobody yet produces CHARCOAL in Belize. Clay clumps otherwise in rainy season, to a greasy brick like texture, unusable by vegetable roots. Fine sawdust does that too.
• Adding daily water eliminates growing seasons. We have found by three years of experiments, that you can plant weekly for commercial purposes, but this is too often, as the harvest time of plants tends to vary and spread out more. We would recommend depending on the type of vegetable planting, either monthly, or the earliest every two weeks.
• For greenhouses, there is as yet, no importer of thin feeder black plastic hose to connect from mainline water pvc pipes and to six inch plastic drip feeders for each plant. In commercial field operations, farmers have been using well water and flexible coils of drip feeding hose that is about an inch in diameter, with success. Commercial onion farming is now being done successfully with this method in the fields. Greenhouses require drip feeders if you are going commercial. We use a garden hose for our small experimental research operation.
• Hydroponic operations are being used. There must be 200 kinds of hydroponic operations of growing vegetables systems worldwide, but EBB and FLO, seem to pre-dominate? So long as you supply the nutrient and water for the vegetables you are using a hydroponic system, irregardless of the method. I have currently gone to plastic pot growing, using prepared potting soil, made of humus, wood ashes, lime, chicken manure, and compost tea made from organic decomposition. My only addition this third year of experimentation is to supply just the water. Adding nutrient does work faster though, to get results in a timely harvesting manner. We mix our own nutrients. We also use COMPOST TEA we make ourselves and works great.
• Greenhouses get hot in the tropics. The sides must be left open. The local available plastic rolls are not greenhouse UV protected and consequently between the sun and ultra violet light, the stuff tears up fast, about six months. Which is no good. Plastic roofing is used to prevent the rainy season from diluting the nutrients in ebb and flow systems. Shade cloth is available locally. It may not be necessary, but does keep birds out.
• Technically there is no season for growing vegetables, if you supply nutrient and water. However, we can qualify that, and say that during the rainy season, production will go down, when there are too many days of cloud cover and not enough sun.
• GREENHOUSE growing of vegetables is a controlled environment and you can get your vegetables off the ground, which eliminates a lot of bugs and pests. So far, we use water and coconut oil mix for bugs on tomatoes, and compost tea foliar spray for diseases. The only problems we have had, is with tomatoes in which after several months of re-planting continuously we got TOBACCO MOSAIC VIRUS, which wiped them out. THRIPS on tomato plants also gave us trouble. The water and coconut oil spray works, but has to be applied every two days for THRIPS. I’ve known of soil based tomato operations, that had trouble with APHIDS. In our compost tea, we usually add a bit of chicken manure in the mixing part.
• I am now on our third year of continuous vegetable growing, without stopping for seasons. We feed our family with vegetables several times a week. Our research has shifted to finding the most successful varieties suitable for local conditions. We welcome foreign donation of seeds to try. ( mail to: Box 276, San Ignacio, Belize, Central America. ( mark them FREE SAMPLES )
• Currently vegetable growing is an IMPORT SUBSITUTION situation. The country imports a lot of vegetables from Mexico and the USA. Expertise is growing rapidly and soon we expect MARKET GARDENING will become more sophisticated, better managed and applied properly, to lower risk. BUYERS, OR MARKETING is still a problem in most areas of the country. EXPORT buyers so far have expressed interest mostly in HABENERO PEPPERS and PAPAYA. There exist local exporters of both for these two. Potatoes are doing well by Barton Creek Mennonites and Orange Walk and Corozal Mennonite operations are doing well, in onions and partially so in lettuce. San Antonio, Cayo District farmers are doing well in MARKET GARDENING vegetables on a year round basis for the local TWIN TOWNS river market.